I began the week posing a question – if today were the first time I’d ever heard Mark’s account of Christ’s passion, what would I hear with fresh ears? What new questions might I ask of my faith if I weren’t taking the words of the Gospel for granted, if I didn’t think I knew them so well?
There is one small passage following Jesus’ arrest in the garden at Gethsemane that totally baffled me with its apparent randomness. “Now a young man followed him with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.”
I believe nothing is random or coincidental in scripture, particularly in the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s author wrote the Reader’s Digest version of the Jesus story. It’s the shortest of the Gospels, noticeably lacking in detail when compared to the versions put forth by Matthew’s, Luke’s, and John’s authors. So, the naked man who got away when Jesus was arrested must be pretty significant. Who was he? Like the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume, he is never named.
I’m not scripture scholar or theologian, and I don’t claim to have the end-all-be-all answer to the man’s identity. If you search it on the internet, there are arguments that the man is Mark himself, inserting himself into the story. I found a pretty compelling argument that, because of Gethsemane’s proximity to a burial place, and because a “linen cloth” was used in the burial process, the man was the first of many to be raised from the dead as Christ embarked up His passion. But when I read scripture, I read it like a T.S. Eliot poem.
T.S. Eliot is my favorite, and every line of poetry that man created had double, triple or quadruple meanings. He alluded to so much classical literature, mythology, history and even the current events of the day that it is hard to understand the true meaning of his works without having a concordance nearby to explain line by line what he was referring to.
So when I put on my “T.S. Eliot” glasses when I’m reading Mark, I remember in scripture there being another man who was naked in a garden. And it seems only right that the one whose guilt was responsible for Jesus’ sacrifice should be present (symbolically, not literally) in the moment Christ took his place.
I believe the man was Adam.
Adam, who out of shame and guilt sought to cover up who he was with a fig leaf and turn away from God, hiding in the bushes. If Mark’s young man is symbolic of Adam, he got the ultimate do-over. Instead of hiding from God, he followed the arrested Christ. Instead of clinging to his loincloth for the barest (pardon the pun!) attempt at human dignity, he abandoned his human dignity and accepted the humility of his nakedness. And unlike Adam who was immediately sentenced to death and banishment by God, he escaped capture and judgment by the religious authorities and ran off free. He got away, back to the state in which he entered the world – naked and unashamed.
I believe the man was not just Adam, but every one of Adam’s sons and daughters who were subject to the same banishment of original sin. You and I were there, written into the Gospel. You and I were there when they crucified my Lord. You and I were the ones that got away.
But only if we were willing to leave our loincloths at the scene of the arrest.
Every day we get to make that choice. Do we cling to the symbol of our shame and attempt to hide behind guilt? That is not the path of Christian freedom that Jesus afforded us when He embarked upon His passion in the garden. Because of Jesus we can acknowledge our guilt, and them move on. We even have holy Sacraments instituted by Jesus Himself to help us do it. Do we avail ourselves of this gift, or do we allow ourselves to be captured and held bound because we are afraid to let go of the activities and choices we think hide our shame and guilt? Good works and religious piety don’t cover a guilty conscience. I don’t know about you, but being seen wearing only my undies wouldn’t be much less mortifying than being completely naked.
Is such little dignity worth more than freedom? To the Jewish people who abhorred nakedness, the answer was yes. To modern-day Pharisees who cling to their religious judgments and rules and appearances, the answer is also yes. But to the humble children of God, there is no need for shame at our spiritual nakedness. We are human and we sin, and we are forgiven. There is no longer shame in being human for all to see.
I like to think that the young man, Adam or not, ran off naked into the arms of a loving Father who clothed him in a purple robe, put a ring on his finger, and killed the fatted calf for a feast. Christ won for us that Christian dignity. Let us run and claim it, freer than on the day we were born.